The wait time for children and youth in Simcoe County who require mental health counselling and therapy services is 313 days.
Elizabeth McKeeman, CEO of New Path Youth and Family Services says those figures are based on data collected from a variety of agencies in the region.
Waiting lists have been the norm for many, many years, in part she says because as a sector they believe as the stigma around mental health continues to decrease, more people come forward looking for services.
“We know anxiety and depression has increased like 50 per cent in children and youth under age 18, so there is higher waiting lists and more demand than can meet the need.”
That’s why New Path instituted walk-in clinics two and half years ago as a way to get mental health services to kids and families faster.
“The good news is over 1,500 children and their families were serviced last year,” says McKeeman. “But of those, over 40 per cent required further services, things like counselling and therapy.”
The walk-in clinics operate at New Path’s Barrie, Orillia, Midland, Collingwood, Alliston and Bradford sites.
A report released today by Children’s Mental Health Ontario called on the Ford government to increase spending in services, noting wait times for children and youth mental health services have more than doubled in two years.
McKeeman says what people wouldn’t know is that the view in the sector is funding for children and youth mental health services has been cut in half over the last 25 years, after inflation.
“Our funding has not been needs-based. It doesn’t matter if you’re in an area like Barrie, which was one of the fastest growing cities, the funding was never attached to that. As the needs increased, the funding never kept up with it for 25 years.
McKeeman says increased wait times impact families. She says parents are missing work, kids are missing school and families are stressed.
“Lots of families go to hospitals which is ideally not where we want them to be.”
If hallway healthcare is going to end, McKeeman says government needs to invest in community supports so kids don’t have to sit in an emergency department for five or six hours.
She says what is needed from the province is annual funding of $150 million to the sector to keep families out of hospitals and to improve mental health.
“We’re drowning in our wait times and it doesn’t feel good to come to work every day knowing people need service.”
She says mental health can’t wait.
With the walk-in clinics, families can come or a youth or parent alone and get immediate help. McKeeman says it may not be all they need. She says some families choose to come back or join certain groups that are dedicated to things like anxiety or parenting, some just come when they need to.
McKeeman admits it is awful trying to cobble something together for a youth, for example, who maybe in Alliston and needs counselling and therapy but the wait time is four months. She says staff have to figure what they can do in the meantime.
“We can’t just say goodbye when they come in and are depressed or have suicidal thoughts. It’s not going to help sitting in a hospital waiting room.”
McKeeman’s says government must stop the waiting for Ontario families that are seeking mental health services for their kids.